Mayor London Breed 2024 Transportation Vision

London Breed
13 min readMar 28, 2024

San Francisco is a city that needs diverse options when it comes to transportation. And we thrive when we have those options. We are one of the densest cities in the United States. We are not a suburban town or a low-density city with wide boulevards and low populations where everyone can drive up to where they want to go.

Let’s be clear — this density is one of the reasons so many of us are drawn to living in a city like San Francisco. We want to be around people, around life, around culture. We want to see sidewalks busy with people shopping, visiting friends, and raising families. We want our parks to be places of peace and reflection, but also places where people gather for picnics, games, and celebrations. Our density is what sets us apart from most other cities.

But that density comes with a tradeoff, including when it comes to transportation. We cannot rely only on cars to get around. That might work when we are visiting friends and family in other cities. But here in San Francisco, we need to be sure that people have options to get around — by bus or rail, by bike or foot, as well as by car. That’s who we are.

I grew up riding the 22 Fillmore. That was my bus. And it wasn’t just because I didn’t have a car. It was because the 22 got me and my friends where we needed to go. It was reliable and central to our existence, and it connected us to other bus lines and other parts of the City.

When I look at transportation in this City, I think of what the 22 meant for me and my community. I think of it through how we can give people options that best serve them knowing that everyone has different needs.

  • An office worker trying to get Downtown has different needs than a senior trying to get to a medical appointment or to see a friend across town — yet our system must serve them both equally.
  • A family trying to get from school to soccer practice has different needs than a nurse trying to get to work or a bartender heading out for an evening shift — yet our system must be flexible enough to make them all feel that they have safe and convenient options.
  • A tourist visiting our city and wanting to visit the Golden Gate Bridge has different needs than a long-time small business owner trying to draw customers in through their front doors — yet our system must be dynamic enough to benefit both.

This is what I think about when we make choices about how to invest in transportation in San Francisco. How we can be equitable, flexible, and dynamic. How we can make sure the options we are giving people are efficient and safe. That means safe from both injury and from harassment or threat. That means addressing not only the needs of today’s San Francisco, but also the needs of tomorrow.

Looking Ahead

Five years ago, I inherited the 49 square miles of 100+-year-old road infrastructure that no longer fully meets our values or our residents’ values today. And it needs an overhaul. These streets were built for another time, a smaller population, and designed for a world we no longer want to live in, where cars were really the only option. Our systems are long overdue for a physical modernization, and that is going to take a lot of time and a lot of resources.

San Francisco is a growing city. We have passed an ambitious Housing Element to allow for 82,000 new homes by 2031. Whether we reach that specific goal is one question, but we will be adding tens of thousands of new homes over the next decade.

In addition to making sure we can build enough housing, it is also my job to plan for the rest of the infrastructure people need. With clear housing goals, we need clear transportation goals. I want a San Francisco where we can continue to grow and welcome new residents, where kids born in San Francisco can stay and start families here.

That means building a city and a transportation network that can support our growing population and help our City thrive. That means buses crossing our city and rail lines running both under and above ground. That means supporting bicycling and walking, by making these options safe and efficient. Investments in these networks help those who need to drive — because the more people we move from cars to other options, the more space there is for those who need to drive. And many people still need to drive.

As we look ahead to this future, I have three main goals serving as the bedrock for the decisions we are making:

I want our transportation systems to work efficiently. That means building and maintaining the infrastructure, policies and programs that keep Muni fast, frequent and reliable; our traffic moving predictably; and our pedestrian and bicycle networks connected and safe. We need to make sure it’s easy and convenient for people to get where they need to go — within their neighborhoods and across the entire city.

I want people to have choices. I want everyone to be able to pick the mode that makes sense for their trip. Having choices means you can choose to walk to your friend’s house, you can choose to bike to McLaren Park, you can choose to take Muni to Chase Center, you can choose to drive to the grocery store. You can pick the mode that best fits your trip. As a transit-first City, we are prioritizing improvements to our transit, walking and biking networks so that those are options you can choose first,

I want our streets and public spaces to bring people together. When I was growing up, our streets were part of our neighborhood. They were where we met and walked and talked. Yes, we need our streets to be for moving people around by car, bus, and bike, but they also need to be a place for people. Every time I’m on the JFK Promenade or at a neighborhood block party, I’m reminded that our streets have the potential to bring people together instead of pushing them apart. I want our streets to be joyful again. And when we bring more people out onto our streets, we also make them safer.

Where We Are Today

These are critical goals, and they are goals where we’ve already made progress. We can build on the work we have done.

Transit: Transit is the most cost-effective and space-efficient way to move large numbers of people around our growing city. We are doing the work to make improvements to Muni now while planning for the future.

Over the past ten years, we have built over 100 miles of projects that make Muni more reliable and faster. And our efforts are working: Muni ridership was up 25% in 2023 compared to 2022. Muni routes on Van Ness, 16th Street and Mission St have higher ridership now than before the pandemic. Travel time for these routes has been reduced up to 30%. Muni remains the most heavily used system in the Bay Area — more than half of all Bay Area transit trips are on Muni. Through our proactive maintenance work and investments in new vehicles, we’ve reduced major subway delays by 76% since 2019 and short-term delays by 89%.

We are creating a more reliable, faster, and more equitable transit system for all San Franciscans.

Walking: San Francisco is a great walking city with its views, world-class destinations and parks, and vibrant neighborhoods. Walking and transit are important systems that must work together so that you can get safely where you need to go– no matter how long the distance– when you need to be there.

Speeding is the leading cause of serious and fatal crashes in San Francisco and a trend that is increasing across the United States. The City’s Vision Zero program identifies and makes systematic changes to reduce this danger, especially on our high injury network. To make our streets safer we’re installing Speed Safety cameras, traffic calming elements, like speed humps and sidewalk bump-outs to slow traffic. With the “Quick Build” program, we have completed more than 50 miles of safety improvements for people walking and biking. We have also led the state in implementing lower speed limits citywide under state law changes that went into effect in January 2022. So far, we have lowered the speed limit to 20 mph on 44 miles of streets on 62 corridors.

It’s not because we’re trying to make driving inconvenient, it’s because we know people drive more carefully when they’re not speeding, and that means safer streets for everyone. The life of our City is in the streets– people and families on sidewalks support our small businesses, our transit system, and make our plazas and parks full of fun and welcoming activity.

Biking: Riding a bike, scooter, or skateboard can be a joyful and safe way to move around San Francisco. At just 49 square miles, biking or rolling can be the most efficient way to get to work, school, shopping, or meeting up with friends or family, especially with young children. Making this option more accessible means we need to create a network that is more safe, accessible, and comfortable for everyone to use.

San Francisco has spent years growing and improving our bikeway network; including building 41 miles of protected bike lanes (72% of which we’ve built since I’ve been Mayor), 32 miles of Slow Streets, and seven miles of car-free streets, ranging from our South of Market protected bike network Downtown to JFK Promenade in Golden Gate Park. We boast the highest rate of commuting to work by bicycle (3.4%) of any major city in the United States, and 10% of San Franciscans use a bike or other mobility device every day.

Our safety efforts are bearing fruit. Bicycle injuries and fatality totals are down in recent years, particularly compared to other larger U.S. cities. They have decreased by 50% in the last four years. In 2023, bike fatalities were at a historic low. As we continue to build a more comfortable citywide bikeway network, more people will feel comfortable biking.

Automobiles: We want people who drive to be able to get around predictably and safely. To be clear — we are a major city and there will always be times and areas that face congestion. There will be commute hours, special events, and construction delays. But we can reduce impacts by properly managing these situations for those who need to drive and encourage other options where we can.

The more appealing we make it to take Muni, walk or roll, the more people will give those options a try — which will open up space on the road for people who do drive. To make sure drivers aren’t stuck in gridlock, we focus on keeping traffic moving on main thoroughfares and using tools like signal timing and adjusting turn lanes to reduce traffic bottlenecks.

For example, signal timings on certain streets, such as Pine or Fell Streets ensure that traffic can proceed smoothly at the speed limit through most green lights. On other two-way streets we look at traffic patterns to favor one direction of traffic depending on the time of day or try to minimize unnecessary stopped delay in all directions as best as we can. Some signals may be more responsive to the actual demand of traffic present, but in many busier places we keep signal timing predictable and uniform.

We also have a unique opportunity with the introduction of autonomous vehicles to foster an emerging technology that will provide a new way to think about automobile use in our city. AVs are still in their early stages, but they have the potential to provide reliable, safe automotive rides for our residents.

Goals for What’s Ahead

To meet our three goals, we have nine strategies we will focus on:

#1 Continue making Muni more efficient through improvements to speed and reliability. The SFMTA has made major improvements to Muni’s speed and reliability in the last few years, and we will continue to build on our success to be a transit-first City.

#2 Make sure transportation benefits are distributed equitably. For many decades, some neighborhoods got the benefits of transportation investments, while others were stuck with the costs. We have a responsibility to make sure all neighborhoods have comparable levels of transport services and access to the richness of the city.

#3 Ensure our transportation infrastructure and services drive economic recovery and foster small business success. San Francisco’s economic recovery and success are inextricably linked with its transportation system. Our businesses cannot succeed unless their customers, employees and deliveries can easily reach them.

#4 Ensure everyone feels safe and secure on Muni. For our City to work, Muni must feel safe and secure for everyone. This includes those riding on buses and trains, and those waiting at shelters and in stations. It means using staff and technology to improve safety and prevent crimes, and to hold people accountable in any act of violence against other riders or our operators.

#5 Improve Street safety and prevent injuries and deaths. We’ve learned a lot since the Vision Zero policy was established in 2014. We know that we have saved lives with the safety improvements we’ve made and that zero is the right goal. We must stay committed to prioritizing street safety across our city to overcome 100 years of planning, policy and design that has prioritized automobile traffic, speed, and parking. We must do more.

#6 Build a network of safe routes for people of all ages and abilities to walk, bike and use mobility devices. Every San Francisco Street should be safe and comfortable for all people to walk or use a wheelchair and our City should have a connected network of safe streets for bicycling. Different streets have to serve a variety of needs, from transit to delivery vehicles, but every neighborhood across the city should be connected by streets within a complete bike network that you’d be comfortable letting your kids bike on.

#7 Enliven our public spaces. Our streets are not only the way we get to our destinations, but they are also our City’s public commons, where we run into our neighbors, experience the character of our neighborhoods, and come together as community. Having a safe, functioning street system is just as much about safely moving people around as it is creating the environment that connects us to each other. We are not just fixing streets, we are re-envisioning them so people can come together in new public plazas, shared spaces and promenades.

#8 Eliminate greenhouse gas emissions. Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in San Francisco, more than all buildings combined. As mayor of a coastal city with many low-lying neighborhoods, I have a responsibility to quickly eliminate these emissions. Part of our work is electrifying cars, trucks and buses. But to achieve the goals of the City’s Climate Action Plan, we must make it easier to get around San Francisco without a car.

#9 Embrace emerging technologies. San Francisco is a capital of innovation, and we must recognize opportunities that arise to use technological tools in the transportation sector. This includes things like autonomous vehicles, speed safety cameras, and automated license plate readers right now, and continuing to be open to new ideas that come our way.

Improving Communications About Change

When I think of the transportation projects over my tenure as Mayor, I am proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish. At the same time, I want to recognize where we could have done better.

We know that changes to the design of our streets can feel especially stressful for people that depend on loading or parking, like our small businesses who need deliveries or our local churches that have folks coming from longer distances. By planning in advance, we can prepare any changes to meet these local needs first along with building a well-connected, safe citywide transportation network.

I have heard from residents and business owners that they don’t always understand why or when their street is changing. The entire process can feel opaque, and people feel helpless, frustrated and angry. I’ve also heard that we’re making too many changes too fast, or that we’re not making changes fast enough. I have expectations for how our transportation system can support this City, and I also have expectations of how we’ll get there.

Transparency, no surprises: Nobody should be caught off guard when their street changes, parking is removed, or a transit stop moves. And nobody should have to struggle to understand what they can expect in the future. The City will ensure that communication with the public is clear, timely and informative.

To achieve this, the SFMTA will provide detailed explanations for each project, including the reasons behind the changes, the expected benefits, and how they align with the broader goals of the transportation system. To balance the pace of change, the City will implement quick-build projects that provide a flexible approach to street redesigns, allowing for gradual adaptation and minimizing disruption. This allows the City to gather input and make adjustments based on real-world experiences and community feedback.

Furthermore, the City will work with those affected by changes to look for solutions, such as additional loading zones, reviewing transit stops, or adjusted parking arrangements, to support local businesses and institutions.

Thoughtful and people-focused communication. Nothing about the changes to our streets should be confusing. Everyone should have a clear understanding of what, how, and why a project is happening. Information campaigns and related materials will include easy-to-understand, multilingual explanations of our projects’ timing, changes and benefits.

The City will always provide contact information for project teams to allow residents and business owners to get answers to their specific questions. Project and community meetings will be held regularly, providing a platform for direct dialogue between city staff and the public.

In addition, the City will monitor the impact of the changes closely, collect and share data, and remain flexible to make necessary adjustments. This commitment to collaborative problem-solving will ensure that San Francisco’s transportation system evolves to serve all residents and visitors.

Collaboration and flexibility. Transportation projects cannot be done in a vacuum; we need insight from residents, neighbors, businesses, and other agencies to ensure our transportation goals aren’t interfering with other city priorities. Sometimes that means we need to try things out and make changes along the way.

Streets serve all kinds of needs so it’s important that we plan in advance, learn from business owners, residents and communities how their neighborhood works, and that we adapt each project individually and uniquely. And when something needs to change, we will continue to listen and revise making sure we can create the best outcome.

We need to be collaborative and flexible about the “how” when we work towards our transportation goals, but not the “if.” And while I commit to doing our best to accommodate the multitude of needs on our streets — we will not sacrifice safety to get there.

We Must Act

When it comes to transportation, the worst thing we can do is nothing — congestion will only get worse and innocent lives will be lost. We simply do not have the space for everybody to drive all the time. But we do have the space to create thriving transportation networks that serve our entire city so when people do need to drive, it’s a manageable option.

The best thing we can do is to create comfortable, convenient and safe ways to move around the City while supporting our residents, families, children, and businesses.

That’s the kind of city that can grow to support the next generation of kids growing up here while also continuing to be the economic heart of the Bay Area and California. A City that thrives on its density, not in spite of it. That’s the kind of City I want to live in.